News / Health

Malawi Sex Initiation Puts Girls at Risk for HIV

FILE - A young girl carries her sister through a cornfield in Masongo village outside Lilongwe, Malawi, May 13, 2008.
FILE - A young girl carries her sister through a cornfield in Masongo village outside Lilongwe, Malawi, May 13, 2008.
Lameck Masina

In Malawi, almost a third of new HIV cases occur in women under the age of 30, in part because of traditional coming-of-age ceremonies that introduce young girls to sex, according to AIDS activists.

Malawi’s Demographic and Health Survey shows that 20 percent of young girls in the southern African country become sexually active before age 13. Many of them do so with limited knowledge of safe sex.

People working to combat HIV/AIDS infection blame cultural and traditional practices in which girls are sent to special initiation camps. There, the girls sometimes are encouraged to have sex to transition into adulthood.

The practice is rampant in Malawi’s southern district of Mangochi, said Chief Chowe, a senior traditional leader. He added that it exposes girls to high risk of HIV infection because they’re usually partnered with older men who sleep with several girls in the camp.

The Girls Empowerment Network (GENET), a nonprofit organization in Malawi, works to discourage girls from engaging in sex at a young age. The traditional practice poses a danger of girls becoming addicted to sex, communications adviser Joyce Mkandawire said.

“Once the girls are introduced to the first sexual encounter, they go back and do it on their own because they had done it during the initiation camp,” Mkandawire explained.

Many girls become pregnant and drop out of school, she said.

Chowe and Mkandawire said several interventions are addressing the problems associated with early sex among girls.

Chowe said he has been teaching initiation camp counselors about the dangers of encouraging the girls to have early sexual intercourse. With other district leaders, he has developed by-laws that aim to curb sexual activity among girls.

“As traditional leaders in Mangochi, we have designed by-laws which require all school-going age groups should go to school and if they get pregnant, we have imposed a fine on the culprits,” Chowe said. “A parent is asked to pay a goat if his or her girl child has been impregnated while in school.” 

Mkandawire said her organization is pushing to modify the initiation camps’ syllabus. “Actually we would like to replace initiation ceremonies with summer camps where girls are told to behave like girls and encourage them to stay in school and not introduce them into womanhood,” she said.

The Malawi government’s coordinating arm for HIV activities, the National AIDS Commission, says it supports several initiatives aimed at transforming traditional practices that lead to HIV infection among girls.

“We have educational projects where we work with traditional leaders, social leaders and opinion makers in the community to ensure that harmful cultural practices are no longer practiced,” said Linje Manyozo, a commission specialist in social and behavioral change intervention.

The government is implementing a five-year national HIV/AIDS strategy it launched in 2012.

The strategy calls for teaching girls life skills so they understand their rights and become empowered.

You May Like

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Festus from: Asaba
July 21, 2014 6:34 PM
This shows the level of backwordness of the people in this parth of the world. They need finacial suport to boost their educational sector.


by: Anne Cross from: USA
July 19, 2014 12:39 PM
Can you identify the source of your statement that 20 percent of young girls become sexually active before age 13? The post implies that it is from the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, yet the 2010 survey shows that only 12% of girls aged 15-19 said they had sex before they were 15.


by: Ranger Dan Parsons from: Michigan
July 19, 2014 10:32 AM
Sounds like a made up "Tradition" created to benefit only promiscuous, disease infested, pedophiles. I wonder what lies and fake truths these poor girls are told by these predators to get them to "Comply". There are sleazy pigs that prey on women worldwide.


by: Robert Singleton
July 18, 2014 6:57 PM
Lameck Masina, please stop using the passive voice. It moves the focus from the criminals onto their victims. It allows criminals to get away with all sorts of heinous atrocities unnoticed. Using the passive voice is the exact verbal equivalent of turning the camera away from the perpetrator of a crime and onto the victim while filming.

You said, "...girls are sent to special initiation camps. There, the girls sometimes are encouraged to have sex to transition into adulthood...

Who sends the girls to these camps? Who encourages them to have sex? Who equates adulthood with sexual activity?

The practice is rampant in Malawi’s southern district of Mangochi, said Chief Chowe, a senior traditional leader. He added that it exposes girls to high risk of HIV infection because they’re usually partnered with older men who sleep with several girls in the camp." Who partners these girls with older men? Chief Chowe?

As a senior chief traditional leader, Chief Chowe is largely to blame for this problem. He is aware of the risks, and therefore he should be fighting to stop this tradition. It sounds like a pedophile's paradise. This initiation practice does not appear to benefit the girls at all. What's in it for them?

Who practices these harmful "cultural" practices? Who are the "culprits" in this situation? The impregnators!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid